In my Pilates class this morning, I couldn’t finish any exercise. My neck was hurting, I couldn’t hold imprint, I couldn’t do as many repeats as the instructor was leading us to do. Halfway through the class I heard myself thinking, “I’m never doing this again.”
The last time I went to this class I enjoyed it. I was no stronger then, no more able to keep up than I was today.
The difference between that day and this one was my attitude.
What I liked so much about this class the last time I went to it was that the instructor said, several times, “It doesn’t matter where you are right now. Keep trying. You will get stronger.” She said that today, too, but I wasn’t hearing her.
All I could hear was my inner voice saying, “You can’t do this, you aren’t strong enough. You will never be strong enough.”
This afternoon I hit a point of exhaustion where I stood in the hall and couldn’t remember where I was going or what I was planning to do there. I had been struggling with Bean over everything. I sat down, right there in the middle of the hall, and leaned my head against the wall. I wanted to quit. That mean inner voice that had been talking to me all day was going on about how I wasn’t cut out for this job of motherhood, I wasn’t good enough, patient enough, strong enough.
Only motherhood is something I can’t quit. And I don’t even want to, even when I’m so exhausted I can’t see straight.
So when Bean saw me sitting there, brought me a library book and said, “Read this booky?” I tucked her in under my arm and I read it. Right there in the hall on the carpet that needs vacuuming and shampooing and with whatever it was I thought I needed to do still undone.
She snuggled up against me. She giggled when I used a funny voice for one character. So I did it again. By the end of the story I was no longer worried about my undone tasks or the state of the carpet. I was enjoying the feel of her small body pressed into me and the wonder of the story that had unfolded from the pages of the small book. I was in the moment with her. That inner voice was quiet for now.
Mothering is more than a job, it is a practice. A practice of showing up, over and over and over. Even when your child is fighting with you, throwing food or toys at you, even when they are telling you to go away. Especially then. It is showing up especially when you want to walk away. It is a practice of being in the moment, whether the moment is hard and impossible or transcendently beautiful. It is a practice that never gets easier, but I’m getting better at it.
I sometimes think back to those early days when Bean was so tiny and I really didn’t know what I was doing. Even then I did, somewhere in my cells, but I really didn’t believe I did. But I kept practicing. I didn’t focus on what I didn’t know, but on what I did. And my mothering muscles got stronger. The practice was easier.
I can do things now I never thought I’d be able to manage back then. I can carry a screaming, kicking toddler out of the library and calm her down. I can strip her down after a potty-training miss and have her clean and dry again in 2 minutes flat. I can weather sleepless nights, catch vomit in my hands, negotiate an hour-long bedtime routine.
Just like I can’t yet imagine how I can ever do some of those Pilates moves now, back then I couldn’t imagine how I would do any of these mothering maneuvers.
But I’m here. Just because I kept practicing.
What is the part of mothering that most makes you want to give up?